Fellow Toastmasters and distinguished guests. A ship left port and headed out to sea. One of the sailors asked the captain where they were headed. &#x201C;I&#x2019;m not sure&#x201D; the captain replied. &#x201C;I was thinking we could sail this way for a while, then go the other way. It really depends on which way the wind is blowing. Let&#x2019;s go with the wind. That&#x2019;s always the easiest direction to take.&#x201D;
&#x201C;Aye, aye Captain!&#x201D; came the happy reply, and the crew leapt into action.
This story sounds silly, doesn&#x2019;t it? Unfortunately, that&#x2019;s how many of us treat our lives. We're willing to work hard, but it's easier to just let trends and circumstances blow us around the oceans of our lives. Most ships put to sea for a specific reason. Sometimes they're delivering cargo, and other times catching fish or crab, but they're always launched with a specific target in mind. Are you?
Now, I'm not really into New Year's Resolutions. New Year's Resolutions are often vague statements like "Spend more time with family & friends, " "Get in shape," "Loose weight," "Enjoy life more," "get organized." Not that any of these statements are bad. However, how are you going to get there? Furthermore, how do you know if you've gotten there? How will you track your progress? How will you hold yourself accountable? These are just a few of the questions that are often left out of the whole New Year's resolution process.
Now I am very much into using the beginning of the year to do some personal evaluation and look at areas where I&#x2019;d like to improve or things I&#x2019;d like to achieve in the coming year.
What I want to discuss here are goals. You&#x2019;ve probably heard of SMART goals:
Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely
These are the types of goals that we&#x2019;re interested in, and these are the goals I want to talk about achieving.
But how do we go about selecting our goals. A good first step is to align them with our needs. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed his hierarchy of needs, a model of the needs common to all people. It is a pyramid with five levels that can clearly show us the path we must take in our lives. It can also illuminate areas that have been holding us back. The key point is knowing that you can&#x2019;t move up to the next level until you&#x2019;ve satisfied the level below. In other words, if you&#x2019;re starving or not breathing, you don&#x2019;t care about creativity and self-esteem. Make sure that your goals are aligned with where you are on the pyramid.
Second, examine your motivations. Why are you going after your goal. Is it something you really want? Is it something that will really make you happy? Too often we chase the shiny goal that&#x2019;s right in front of our eyes and when we catch it, we feel empty inside. That&#x2019;s usually because we didn&#x2019;t want it for ourselves. We wanted it to compensate for some slight or lack in our past. Don&#x2019;t chase goals because they&#x2019;re important to parents, friends, or your bruised ego. Choose and pursue goals that help you move forward in a positive direction.
Once you&#x2019;ve selected a goal, the first crucial step is writing it down. As I&#x2019;ve said before, the worst ink is better than the best memory. Thoughts often disentangle themselves as they flow out of your mind and through your pen, as you move from the abstract to the concrete. Some times something as simple as a sticky note can go a long way toward carrying you from best intentions to real achievement. A few of my goals for this year include completing my Competent Communicator and Competent Leader manuals by June, speaking at 8 No Fluff Just Stuff events, and deploying my first iPhone application to the App Store.
Once you&#x2019;ve written them down, you must break them down into daily tasks. How do we tackle a goal like &#x201C;losing weight?&#x201D; It&#x2019;s too vague and too huge. How can you tackle a huge goal? The same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
Let&#x2019;s make it specific, let&#x2019;s say &#x201C;lose twelve pounds this year.&#x201D; In this model of elephant eating, we&#x2019;ll break it down to manageable steps. A year is a long time. Let&#x2019;s break it down to a month. That&#x2019;s one pound a month, and the next break down finds us at a quarter pound a week. If I&#x2019;ve got to trim a quarter pound this week...
...I can&#x2019;t have dessert tonight!
The next important step is to look at your goals every single day. Life is busy. Thanks to cell phones, blackberries, and the like, most of us don&#x2019;t get isolation anywhere! We have email, text messages, screaming children, and a thousand other distractions competing for our attention. Unfortunately the old adage is really true: &#x201C;Out of sight, out of mind.&#x201D;
The aforementioned sticky notes? Stick them on the bathroom mirror. The car dashboard. Your computer monitor. Trying to eat less? Stick it on the refrigerator or the pantry. Set a daily reminder in Outlook. Keep your goals in plain view and you&#x2019;ll keep making progress.
A very important step is to periodically review and revise. After a few weeks or months of working on your goals, stop and retrospect. What&#x2019;s going well? What&#x2019;s not going well? Is this still a good goal for you? Have circumstances pointed you in the direction of a more appropriate goal? Do plan, but don&#x2019;t follow your plan blindly. Make course corrections if and when necessary.
Finally, share your goals carefully. Watch out for crabs. When you&#x2019;re catching crabs, you don&#x2019;t need a pot with a lid. Once you get two crabs in the pot, none can escape. The one crabs that reaches the edge, and freedom, is always pulled back in by other crabs. Misery loves company reaches a whole new level with crabs in a pot!
Unfortunately, many of us live and work with crabs. So many people will unintentionally pull down the people around them. It&#x2019;s usually not malicious, but just a sad component of human nature. Familiarity breeds contempt, and that&#x2019;s what many people have for the people with whom they work and live.
So when you&#x2019;ve chosen your goals, be careful how you share them as you move forward. Accountability and encouragement from others are extremely important, but it&#x2019;s also important not to &#x201C;throw your pearls before swine, &#x201C; or crabs, as the case may be.
So, in summary, if you want to achieve your goals:
- Make sure they&#x2019;re aligned with your needs. - Examine your motivation and make sure YOU really want to achieve these goals. - Write them down. - Break them down to daily tasks. - Look at them every day. - Review and revise periodically. - Share them carefully, but do share!